Like last week’s anti-drug themed episode of The Flash, this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes perilously close to being an ABC Afterschool Special, this time about the dangers of sympathizing with or joining a hate group. Fortunately, what redeems it — as is usually the case with S.H.I.E.L.D. — are the show’s characters, whom we’ve come to care so very much about.
Mack pays a visit to his brother in Illinois, where a gang of extremists have attacked an A.T.C.U. storage facility, imploding it with some sort of “sticky” bombs. We’re then introduced to the Watchdogs, a group of anti-Inhuman internet bigots who’ve taken their crusade to the streets, under the supervision of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake (Titus Welliver). We last saw Blake two years ago when he was killed by Deathlok. Turns out he got better, and awoke in shock to discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been compromised by Hydra. Of course the first thing Blake does is allow himself to be just as compromised, since it turns out that Malick and his stooges have been supporting his new campaign.
“Watchdogs” gives us more of Mack’s background than we’ve received in a single episode before, and Henry Simmons takes full advantage of the opportunity to flesh out his character. It’s easy to see why Mack would turn to his brother after Bobbi and Hunter — his two best friends on the team — departed last episode. Sadly, as Ruben Mackenzie (dubbed “Mini Mack” by Daisy), Grey’s Anatomy star Gaius Charles doesn’t fare quite as well. He’s fine in the scenes where the two bros are reconnecting, and when Ruben expresses sympathy for the Watchdogs (an obvious comment on the disenfranchised voters who’ve aligned with Donald Trump this election season). But when Ruben eventually discovers that Mack is not, as he’s long proclaimed to be, an insurance agent, and that he’s fighting to protect the very Inhumans the Wachdogs wish to destroy, well, he doesn’t quite convince us his world has been turned upside down.
Elsewhere in this episode, Daisy comes off as something of a jerk as she risks Fitz’s life to find and interrogate a Watchdog member. To its credit, however, the episode doesn’t make any overt judgements on her actions, and instead lets us decide if she’s in the right. But there’s some shaky science when Fitz is tagged with one of the group’s bombs. The solution of freezing it with liquid nitrogen should also freeze the skin surrounding it on Fitz’s neck, leaving him howling in agony. But the scientist peels off the bomb as though it were a mere band-aid. Hey, perhaps it will eventually be revealed that Fitz too in an Inhuman. If so, I’d go with the code name “Skin Graft”.
In this week’s other, less questionable, pairings… Coulson recruits Lincoln to go after Blake, as a means of testing the young Inhuman’s devotion to S.H.I.E.L.D. Thus far, says the director, he’s only proved his commitment to Daisy. I love to see Coulson give the kid a hard time because their relationship rings true to to any man who’s had to convince his girlfriend’s father that he’s worthy of his daughter’s devotion. So it was almost disappointing to see Lincoln follow Coulson’s orders and strike Blake. Yet the new recruit at least has enough of a mind of his own to set his power to stun rather than kill.
The third of this episode’s team-ups has May recruiting Jemma to help her go after Andrew. The two connect over their shared feelings of guilt at having allowing a deadly killer to go free; and Jemma advises the Cavalry that Andrew/Lash is operating on an imperative different from other Inhumans, i.e. a need to hunt and kill. It’s not exactly a shared love of Taco Tuesday, but I’m glad to see the two bonding over something. With Bobbi gone and May still crestfallen over Andrew (even if she says she’s channeling her feelings elsewhere), each of these two ladies could use a friend.
— Mack finally gets his shotgun-axe! Granted, it’s more of a shotgun-butcher knife, but it was enough to make me stand up and cheer when he buried it in one of the Watchdog bigots.
— Coulson too gets to lay down some smack, to Lincoln: “Don’t interrupt me. You haven’t earned that right.”
— “Don’t give me hope, Jemma. I don’t want hope.” Silly May — our dear Agent Simmons is the living embodiment of hope!
— “You used to call him, Alfie? Wow. I can’t wait for him to come out of recovery now.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).